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Two convicted in 2010 shooting death of Fernwood man

Nov 25 2012
Mary Beech holds a photo of her brother, Leslie Henkel. The 52-year-old man, who had schizophrenia, was shot and killed during a bungled robbery at his Fernwood apartment in March 2010. 

Mary Beech holds a photo of her brother, Leslie Henkel. The 52-year-old man, who had schizophrenia, was shot and killed during a bungled robbery at his Fernwood apartment in March 2010.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford , timescolonist.com (Nov. 2012)

After deliberating for three hours, a B.C. Supreme Court jury has convicted Andrew Belcourt of the second-degree murder of a 52-year-old Fernwood man during a home invasion in March 2010.

The jury also found Bel-court's co-accused, Samuel Mcgrath, guilty of manslaughter in the death of Leslie Hankel, a Victoria man with schizophrenia who lived alone in his small apartment at 1260 Pembroke St.

Hankel died instantly when he was shot in the head during a botched robbery. Belcourt, who testified in his own defence, admitted he shot Hankel, but said it was an accident.

The verdict means the jury rejected Belcourt's evidence and found he killed Hankel intentionally. It also means they found that Mcgrath, though culpable, did not intend to kill Hankel.

"I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders," said Han-kel's sister, Mary Beech, who was present through difficult testimony for most of the six-week trial.

Before the trial began, Belcourt and Mcgrath pleaded guilty to robbery with a firearm and break and enter.

Justice Malcolm Macaulay will sentence both men for their crimes on Wednesday.

For his second-degree murder conviction, Bel-court, 22, receives an automatic life sentence. However, the judge can set Belcourt's parole eligibility at anywhere between 10 and 25 years.

On Saturday, six of the 10 jurors recommended Bel-court not be eligible for parole for at least 15 years. The remaining four jurors made no recommendation.

The jury was sequestered late Friday afternoon and reached its verdict about 9: 40 a.m. Saturday.

Before retiring Friday night, the jury asked to see the shotgun that killed Han-kel. Ten minutes after they saw the gun on Saturday morning, the jurors reached their verdict.

Mcgrath's lawyer, Mike Munro, said he thought the verdict was fair.

"We're pleased with the outcome," he said.

Neither the Crown, nor Belcourt's defence lawyer, Tim Russell, wished to comment.

During the trial, the jury learned that Belcourt and Mcgrath thought they would find money and marijuana in Hankel's apartment and planned a home invasion for March 3, 2010.

Hours before the robbery, Mcgrath bought a shotgun from Belcourt's stepfather, Michael Rennie, and brought it to the Johnson Street townhouse where Belcourt was staying.

That night, Rennie showed Belcourt how to use the gun.

Close to midnight, both accused put on dark clothing and went to Hankel's apartment.

Just before 1 a.m., Bel-court and Mcgrath kicked in the door, splintering and breaking the frame. Inside, they assaulted Hankel and demanded marijuana and money.

They ransacked his apartment, emptying cupboards and drawers, even pulling his bed apart in their search.

The shotgun was fired twice.

The first shot went through the ceiling into the apartment above. The second shot hit Hankel in the head, killing him immediately.

Belcourt and Mcgrath fled, taking Hankel's wallet and a small tin of marijuana.

Belcourt testified that Mcgrath was not even in the room at the time and did not know the shotgun was loaded.

Three Crown witnesses testified that Belcourt told them his mask fell down during the robbery and so he had to shoot Hankel.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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